As social media censorship grows more intensive and remains as arbitrary as ever, a question among social media marketers has become what type of content can be posted and promoted.
The grey, indistinct rules given aren’t particularly helpful and what ends up being allowed or results in a censorious slap can be hard to predict.
Still, an ad against anti-Semitic hate could probably be assumed to not be “hateful” or otherwise worthy of censorship.
Well, to reasonable people, perhaps. Not to Facebook. In a move that will surprise many (although probably won’t surprise those that remember when Facebook censored the Declaration of Independence), Facebook decided that the Jewish Federation of Broward County, Florida’s “Shine the Light” ad, meant to counter anti-Semitism, was inadmissible.
Here’s what the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports happened, and what the federation’s officers believe happened:
Just ahead of Hanukkah, the Jewish Federation of Broward County in Florida tried to purchase an ad on Facebook, a simple post calling attention to the problem of antisemitism as a part of a new nationwide campaign called “Shine a Light.”
But Facebook’s automated system rejected the ad without explanation, leading federation officials to suspect the post was accidentally ensnared by a filter designed to block hate speech.
“Unfortunately, Facebook inexplicably rejected our ads, presumably because they contained the words ‘hate’ and ‘anti-Semitism,’” wrote the federation’s board chair Alan Cohn and interim president and CEO Mark Freedman in a letter to the company on Tuesday. “This, we believe, is an unintended, but calamitous consequence of your effort to curb hate speech.”
Just the News adds (pun intended) that:
Facebook has censored Jewish organizations before, with most problems arising after the platform banned Holocaust denial ads.
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial and Museum told JTA in June that “it’s a real problem” when the organization attempts to promote events.
They’re probably right that the algorithm censored the ad unintentionally. Even Facebook isn’t so crazy as to declare that an ad against hate speech is…hate speech.
But, still, the incident shows the dangers of social media censorship, especially censorship via algorithm: it frequently flags the wrong things and inadvertently punishes those promoting ideas that even the quite restrictive platforms don’t intend to censor.
With an appeal process that’s far from transparent and often takes months, if it happens at all, those that rely on social media for promotion or their livelihoods can be severely impacted by mistakes that flag innocuous material as somehow “dangerous” or “hate speech.”
Perhaps this incident and the resulting furor will remind Facebook of why a more restrained approach to censorship leads, in the end, to fewer problems and better outcomes.